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The context to murder

Tokyo after the American firebombing, 1945.

A Century of Western killing in context.

The loss of life is tragic. No matter the community, it is with a sense of sorrow that all tend to mourn another’s death. The tragedy is blended with the dual finality of the other leaving their mortality to the added reality that all of us some day, in some manner also will die. When someone is killed by others it is with an added weight of sorrow that death is given, a need for justice and often vengeance is sought. A loved one, a familiar, a friend or even a nearby stranger was taken by a vicious murderer. Despite the livings pain and sense of indignation often being the same, apparently not all murder, is murder. Apparently, murder can have a context.

War gives a wider context to human killing, the ancient practice of cultures that has a romantic nobility shrouded above the gruesome reality. It is with a supreme mission that the killers can find themselves obeying an abstract that is both directed and manipulated by their fellow man. Whether it is for God, Nation or Ideology the killers can commit so much murder with a conviction that removes guilt and accountability. It can be the difference between a man hacking away at a family with an axe until they all lay dead and bloodied to the destruction of a family and their neighbours in one immense explosion caused by an anointed group.

The intimacy and reason for the murder is most important. Whether that family deserved to die does not matter. As part of a wider context their death can suddenly become legitimised. Should a deranged killer terrify them with his axe, then society and culture would agree almost absolutely that these dead beings were victims. And the killer should then be deemed a murderer and suffer whatever trial and judgement that the society or culture finds necessary. It is hard to find a common ground with the murderer, hard to conceive a legitimate reason as to why the axe man could find it within himself to hack and slice other beings in such cold and merciless blood. The axe wielding killer is a criminal, a heinous murdering fiend.

But should a family, their neighbours and those others in their peaceful suburb fall victim to a horrific explosion, directed by others afar, what context could disavow the killers from being considered murderers? To the killers, validation and legitimacy comes from context. A context granted to them not merely by legalese as this often should condemn them. No, their context comes from a consensus found within society itself. The community embraces these killers. It even honours them.

Should the explosion come from a terror group, whatever their cause it does not matter to the dead and their loved ones. Should they be nationalist revolutionaries, white supremacists, animal liberationists, Islamic terrorists, Christian fundamentalists, Zionist nationalists, Tamil tigers, ETA, the IRA or the slews of communist reactionaries, for the dead it does not matter. What matters is the apparent cause that this group or these groups have. An ideological purpose that came from seeds of perceived injustice. However perverted and mutated their initial grievance should become they can find a wider justification in doing what it is that they do. In some way from within their own community, however small it may be, they will find supporters. Those who while not militant and violent, will still support the cause regardless of their terrible methods. Such violent groups seek to make an impact to inspire fear, highlight a cause and to in some cases make those who they feel is the aggressor to also feel their pain. They are terrorists, killers and for many still criminal murderers.

Regardless of all the ideology and belief there still lurk the murderous operators that thrive on mayhem, yearn to kill and who regardless of the cause do so with all the viciousness of those that they claim to oppose. Seldom however do terror groups or insurgencies gain wider support outside of their own communities. What happens if the explosion came from the bomb bay of a state of the art war plane or from a cruise missile launched from a destroyer far off the coastline of a stranger’s country?

While the terror from the terrorist is reviled, and despised by far more than those that adore them. It is the uniformed professional class of military personnel that gains a support from within most of their national communities despite any terror committed by them. They are often the very embodiment of national pride, heritage, dignity and self-perception but most of all of foreign policy. Those that revere them see them as the vanguard and sacrificial heroes who stand between civilisation and faceless barbaric hordes of murderous nightmares. And should these heroes, these highly trained professionals cause the explosion taking tens, hundreds or even thousands of lives they are never condemned at home as being murderers, let alone called killers. They are heroes.

As the World thrives in so many wars, as it always has, common narrative flickers from among the chattering elites to the water cooler conversing commoners. It is a narrative, a consensus that steers away from any dissent or wariness when it comes to war and foreign policy. Instead it is often one of support, one that assures those taxes paying enablers at home to sleep well at night. It assures the paid professionals who delve far abroad into others’ lands to do so with the support of their familiars. It enables the explosions to go on. It pays well to some, looks cool to others and safeguards the minds of many more.

It is hard to find a common agreement among friends and familiars during a war, it is hard to see the wider context that historical reflection allows. As mainstream media and popular culture does its part in the cheerleading and polarisation of enemies, most struggle to comprehend nuanced complexities of conflict. Instead it is simply us and them. And we, that being us, are never wrong. After all it is so splendid and free where we live. Over there, where they live it is violent, scary, culturally backwards and hate-filled. That is why they hate us and that is why we must be over there to kill them. That is why it is easy to ridicule and condemn millions of Muslims into one immense glob. They believe in a dangerous theology one that was spread from the sword, an invaders religion, slave owning, misogynistic, paedophilic, backwards, uncivilised and oriental. The ‘moslem’ has often been the enemy of the West. The depiction is not hard to conjure up and when the images of the victims of a suicide bomber are flashed upon the screen, armed gunmen rampaging through Paris or calamity befalling an entire region because of them, the common narrative simply sits well. They are at their very hearts the masked men holding the bloody sword as a headless corpse lays at their feet, strange Arabic flickers across the screen, black and green flags flap and a harsh language cries out to their God. Deadly strangers are they.

ISIS encapsulates perfectly both in imagery and conduct the ‘Islamic Terrorist’. Videos and images of the black masked militants beheading hostages or burning them alive only helped to inspire the public in the sense of urgency needed to fight and defeat the ‘Islamic State’.
ISIS encapsulates perfectly both in imagery and conduct the ‘Islamic Terrorist’. Videos and images of the black masked militants beheading hostages or burning them alive only helped to inspire the public in the sense of urgency needed to fight and defeat the ‘Islamic State’.

The populist nationalists, celebrity atheists and war loving cultural chauvinists alike can unify and incite a rampant desire to kill them all. Alt-right agitators, conspiracy minded anti-globalists, Zionists, Christian evangelists, neo-liberals, neo-labour, neo-Nazi white radicals, humanitarian bombers, neoconservatives and podcasting libertarians can all invent the threats urgent desperation. The clash of civilisation. The holding of hands of a left-wing atheist like Christopher Hitchens with the brain trust of the G W Bush administration. It is the Muslims that need nuking. And yet, as vile as it is to condemned an entire collective of human beings to certain death simply because of their faith, however varied Islam may be, it is common place and so easily done. With every drone strike, deep into an impoverished village, every hospital blasted by a circling AC 130 or each funeral destroyed with impervious violence most back at home, safe and comfortable in their relatively luxurious houses watch on and in many ways cheer. The context is simple. They are evil because they are different. We are good because we are familiar and civilised. This is both their annihilation and at the same time we are bringing our institutions to them, they should be grateful.

Not that many decades ago, in the middle of the mighty twentieth century Islam was not a featuring concern for the public and talking heads of the anointed countries. It was not merely the spread of communism but if we were to go back before the ‘Cold War’ it was also the Asian mass. Perhaps the realisation came about after the Japanese military defeated the Russian Tsar’s in 1905. When the young Eastern Imperial player emerged onto the scene and bested one of the biggest Empires of the Old World. The Great Game for England of the past century suddenly seemed silly and for the Americans as it looked over the former Spanish colonies that itself had only just acquired, consumed Hawaii and added webs to its feet with its obsolete though impressive Great White Fleet, the Pacific region suddenly became apparently important. Access to and dominance of China was crucial. Just as other regions were rife with resources, so too was China for both trade and exploitation.

Perhaps in some ways when US President Theodore Roosevelt upon closing the American embassy in Korea condoned the Japanese Empire in its spread Northwards and into the peninsular of the Morning Calm. Along with the British government in its treaties with Japan, which gave the Japanese Government a nod to annex Korea. In doing so the Japanese government manufactured a treaty, claiming that it was signed by legitimate representatives from Korea. Japan was fast becoming a legitimate regional player, credible and supported by the Anglo-Americans. Just as future rivals also found their genesis in the support of the very Anglo-American alliance that would seek to destroy them in the end. At this time, the Japanese Empire were allies and friends against more traditional foes. The Japanese industrialisation, rampant expanse in military modernisation and technological advancements had been swift. Thanks to the United States and European assistance, Japan had gone from matchlocks, swords and wooden armour to repeater weapons, steam powered machines and torpedo boats that would help to soon sink a Russian navy. The Japanese elites and its government of this time looked to and learned from its Western teachers.

As the Boxers rebelled from within China against the Imperial occupations of so many nations, it was Japan that was invited to also help supress the Chinese insurgents as they fought to throw off the foreign oppressors from their lands. It was with all the romantic vindications afforded by the civilised World that the European Empires, the United States, Australia and Japan could defeat defiant though barbaric Oriental Chinese ‘boxers’. A group of fanatics, steeled by abhorrent Eastern beliefs, utilising savage methods and with cruel violence the Boxers attacked and fought anything foreign. It was with the full glorious weight of the World that the Chinese fanatics were beaten. No one dared to question the validity of the occupation. No one considered the illegitimacy of so many foreign colonies in China (or anywhere else in the World for that matter), the grievances expressed by the Chinese peoples did not matter as they after all were inferior to those who then ruled them. The Boxers and the millions of other Chinese were not culturally adept at civilised self-rule or democracy. They were backwards, oriental, believers in flawed theologies, crude, practiced barbarian customs, dressed strangely and were vicious. They needed to be both controlled and converted.

The Boxer Rebellion as seen from an American perspective. All nations involved helped to relay the counter insurgency efforts in China in a similar way. The Chinese ‘boxers’ nearly always being depicted as savages. The photos of Chinese ‘boxers’ appearing in newspapers in the West, cutting the heads from their victims and displaying them proudly helped to fuel the need to ‘civilise’ China.
The Boxer Rebellion as seen from an American perspective. All nations involved helped to relay the counter insurgency efforts in China in a similar way. The Chinese ‘boxers’ nearly always being depicted as savages. The photos of Chinese ‘boxers’ appearing in newspapers in the West, cutting the heads from their victims and displaying them proudly helped to fuel the need to ‘civilise’ China.

The United States having just defeated the decayed Spanish Empire at the end of the 19th Century found itself in possession of several foreign territories. One of which was the Philippines. Not all of those who lived in the complicated South East Asian nation of several cultures spread over many islands wanted to be ruled by another far away Foreign Empire. Despite the rhetoric of liberation promised by the United States, it soon became apparent that the Philippines would become another colony. Many resisted. This led to one of the most brutal and repressive counter insurgency wars in history. The level of violence and malicious conduct expressed by the US military during this period was horrendous. Like the suppressions of other natives in the last century by the Great Powers it was committed in romantic perspective. The World watched and saw and considered it to be a glorious action. Many elites from Japan watched on and in many ways, the young nation took notes. Learning how to rule over ones apparent lesser.

After betraying many of the Filipino factions the United States military arrived in force and began to set up bases and outposts. In doing so, they murdered and raped many of the locals around their garrisons despite any resistance from the locals. The US military murdered, tortured, destroyed, vandalised and kidnapped its way across the islands. The insurgency was long and arduous leading to famines and outbreaks of disease. For all the war crimes committed, no justice was found. Instead thousands died and suffered, perhaps millions. No matter that in some cases boys over the age of ten were murdered simply because they were deemed of fighting age, that photos of civilians being waterboarded made it onto national magazines front covers or that prisoners were gunned down in cold blood. They were inferior Orientals, backwards and culturally dangerous. The US presence was civilising and important to the region. Western order and Christian virtues were being bought to Muslim Asians despite most natives being Catholics and very familiar with the nature of imperial rule and order. Whatever context could be made it did not matter because so long as the splendid rhetoric of the United States self-perception during this period was so loud and far reaching then the bloody deaths of thousands was apparently unimportant. And the World watched on and nodded the American Empire onwards. Evil is relative, as President Theodore Roosevelt stated in regards to the Philippines, “No man is justified in doing evil on the ground of expedience.”

The front cover of Life magazine from 1901, as US soldiers ‘water cure’ a Filipino in the background European soldiers watch on. The torture, rape and wholesale execution of Filipino civilians and rebels alike was well documented and covered by the World’s media at the time. Indifference for the Asian nation and support for the US military however was never in doubt.
The front cover of Life magazine from 1901, as US soldiers ‘water cure’ a Filipino in the background European soldiers watch on. The torture, rape and wholesale execution of Filipino civilians and rebels alike was well documented and covered by the World’s media at the time. Indifference for the Asian nation and support for the US military however was never in doubt.

The millions being enslaved and murdered beneath the Belgian rule inside the Congo, the thousands of killed in Germanys African colonies, the French conquest of Algeria, the British subjugation of natives in its many colonies most notably in Africa from the Boers, Zulus to the Mahdis, the other British Imperial victims from Ireland to India, the mass killings and terrible treatment of natives from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Ottoman Turk genocides against Maronites, Armenians and Greeks from within its empire to the Tsarist Russian pogroms and suppression of its subjects. All horrible abuses against humanity that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the age where the great Empires and Nations of the Earth ruled into the new century with absolute power and with the complete arrogance to kill, enslave and oppress with a civilised tongue but a despot’s bayonet. These millions upon millions of victims if not forgotten to history, died for a civilising cause, progress, because they resisted or simply because they were considered ‘inferior’. For those educated and schooled, this makes perfect sense. It is a context that allows us to review history to reflect upon the skulls and bones of millions with a satisfied nod, for in the end it all worked out well, apparently.

As World War Two raged the treacherous Japanese became the caricature that made its way into commercial products advertising, children’s cartoons and national propaganda. It was the vile Jap who treacherously attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbour and it was the savage Jap who was responsible for the disgusting mass orgy of violence that occurred in Nanking, China in 1937. When Japan itself was finally bombed, it was not hard for the public to applaud as thousands of human beings, innocent of their national leader’s policies, non-complicit in the rape and murder of Chinese civilians in 1937, many of which were not even born in 1941 when Pearl Harbour was attacked, were burned to death in mass raids of fleets of bombers. Because of the crimes of some Japanese, all of them were branded as killers.

The Japanese were at first considered inferior, it was said they could not see at night time due to their poor eyesight. The Mitsubishi Zero could not exist as it did and what capabilities it had would be negated by the crude Japanese pilots the moment they encountered superior Western fighter pilots and planes. The Japanese attack on Manilla soon after Pearl Harbour could not have been performed by ‘Japs’, some even briefly speculated that it was conducted by white mercenaries. Many from Japan also viewed their European foes as inferior and with little consideration, they were lazy, surrendered en masse and while looking good on paper they were quickly defeated across the region by smaller sized Japanese forces. Soon the Japanese were viewed as being clever, treacherous, brutal, capable of surviving the harsh jungle with little food or from whatever the wild tropics provided them. The Japanese were suicidal in their Banzai and Kamikaze attacks; they would lay upon hand grenades waiting to claim an Allied life or sit in a tree for days so that they would fire one killing shot. They were both subhuman and super human. It was after all their racial nature.

The atrocities of the Japanese military are quite often cited as being justification for such malicious bombings of their cities. The self-righteous ‘they started it’ or ‘they raped Nanking’ or ‘they killed civilians in the Philippines, Malay and Indonesia’ is somehow all that is needed to validate the killing of all Japanese, whether babe or elder alike. If Nanking is justification for such destruction of the home land, then why is it that the World did nothing as the Japanese military marched through China and Manchuria conducting itself with such bloody violence. Just as the World did nothing in 1932 as the Soviet Union killed and constricted an entire region and did nothing during its purges. If the rape and murder of foreign peoples should validate the destruction of the cities of the perpetrating nation, then should this not mean that the United States of that time itself should not suffer such a vindictive fate for its conduct in the Philippines, in South America or against its native peoples in the Wild West? Again, the context for fire bombing, embargoes, sanctions, carpet bombing raids and eventually two atomic bombs grant the killers the righteousness to murder. It is the claim of victors.

A US government subsidised depiction of the ‘Jap’ during World War Two. Most nations drew upon the base vulgarity of their populace in order to dehumanise and emphasis the worse elements of the foreign enemy.
A US government subsidised depiction of the ‘Jap’ during World War Two. Most nations drew upon the base vulgarity of their populace in order to dehumanise and emphasis the worse elements of the foreign enemy.

The context to burn to death thousands of innocent Japanese has often been justified by the atrocities committed by their national military before and during the war. Despite it almost being guaranteed that the Japanese civilians knew nothing in detail of the treatment of allied prisoners, the massacre of Chinese during their occupation, the extermination of their local labourers in the Philippines as they retreated or any other crime of the Japanese military and its government. Even for those civilians that were aware, what could they do? Yet still it was apparently their fate to suffer absolute national vengeance. All were guilty. If I was to discuss with many here in Australia and abroad in the United States about the intentional murder of civilians in the name of the war on terror, the hundreds of thousands killed during the 1990s embargoes, the unwarranted assassination of individuals and those around them based upon rumour, many would be ignorant and indifferent to such information. Even though they carry within their pockets a device that would allow them instant access to so much information. No one sane would suggest that those ignorant of their own national governments actions abroad whose conduct is so horrible and vile would warrant the extermination of cities full of its citizens. That would be terrible, unjust – an act of terror. And yet beyond the perspective of the familiar it is precisely the justification used time and time again to murder millions, because their government of groups from within their community committed a wrong or acted abhorrently per contemporary standards.

The mass bombings of Europe, China, South East Asia and Japan during World War Two were not enough to satisfy the next stage of strategic projection for mass civilian death. It would take the Korean War in 1950 to ramp up the wholesale destruction of hundreds of thousands of civilians. As the war developed into an attritional stalemate on the ground below the might of the allied bomber force began to destroy everything that they could of North Korea. By the end of the campaigns it pained the planners, both civil and military, that they had run out of targets. The targets that they sought were not military ones but civilian. It is not known exactly how many civilians were killed during the Korean war, most of which came from the bombs dropped by the US Air Force, but it would easily be in the millions. Liberation from the tyrannical communist regime of the North most certainly would not come from such methods. Instead the regime had a very real and murderous enemy to which they could constantly refer, with good historical reference as they continued to oppress their people for the next several decades. And again, the mass killing of so many Koreans was under an apparent context. The defeat of communism, the prevention of Red Chinese and their North Korean allies from over running Korea. The very peninsula that less than fifty years earlier the United States Government had all but granted to the Japanese, now was of vital importance. The undemocratic dictatorship of South Korea was worth killing millions for. After ‘America had lost China’ to the communists it now seemed important that they would hold on dearly to all their Asian nations in the face of the Red threat.

The North Korean capital, like many other Korean cities and townships was nearly entirely wiped out. Photo of Pyongyang, 1953. The bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica in 1937 had shocked the World, by the end of World War Two and beyond the absolute destruction of whole cities was not only accepted, it was condoned by much of the public at home.
The North Korean capital, like many other Korean cities and townships was nearly entirely wiped out. Photo of Pyongyang, 1953. The bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica in 1937 had shocked the World, by the end of World War Two and beyond the absolute destruction of whole cities was not only accepted, it was condoned by much of the public at home.

The Vietnam war has not only its own soundtrack but also scores of excuses as to why the US lost it. It is not that they were defeated by the Vietnamese enemy, it was simply that they lost it on their own home front. And after such a national face saving explanation for the defeat, it is still almost widely admitted as to being a ‘mistake’. For the millions dead and millions more who suffer even to this day, the mistake cannot be quantified. Just as the Japanese were a comically evil race the Vietnamese, mostly the VC, would simply become ‘gooks’. Untrustworthy, deceptive little creatures that were both not worth American and allied blood and yet their nation was important enough to kill within and send heroes and conscripts to die for. Another context had been set, the stop of communism. The dominoes of Asia could not fall. As the Great society and other national programs of non-free market means spread with benevolent coercion through the United States. Other Western nations also nationalised entire sectors and injected the states tendrils into every level of society. Meanwhile the Communist threat in Asia, controlled by both Moscow and Peking needed to be stopped. Socialism had to be halted. It was an infection that spread and was controlled from only those two sources.

Napalm, Agent Orange, Carpet Bombs and endless salvoes of artillery all were instrumental in staving off the potential demise of the Saigon regime. And when the war inevitably ended and the North invaded the South. Some years would pass before the shame of defeat and a period of reflection would hit the US and its allies. After a cottage industry of Vietnam war films seeking to moralise and criticise the war, the gooks soon become human beings. The migrants and refugees that fled what was left of their homeland sought sanctuary in the very nations that had helped to destroy it. They became shop owners, restauranteurs, laundromat operators and comedians. The war was now even harder to conceptualise. For many it was the fault of the military industrial complex that had supposedly killed Kennedy, the companies that made the weapons were responsible. The Pentagon, Nixon and Kissinger and so on. The cheerleaders, talking heads and pundits were merely mistaken. The hippies that drifted away once the draft ended no longer cared about the anti-war message. The unexploded mines, chemically barren deathscape, maimed bodies and cratered fields were someone else’s problem now.

As a US Major was quoted in saying to AP journalist, Peter Arnett in regards to the destruction of the Vietnamese city of Bến Tre, “it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it”. Whatever the exact quote is and who the major was pales to the reality of the many towns and villages that were destroyed. Whether in zippo lighter raids, via flame throwers, with mortar fire, long range artillery, from the air with bombs, phosphorous or napalm from the coastline with naval bombardment or simply with bullet fire. Individuals homes and lifestyles were not only destroyed and vandalised, their very livelihoods were uprooted and smashed. Added to that was the death, injuries and humiliation but the context was for the war planners and operators to conceive, not for the suffering millions.

In the decade after the defeat media and popular culture would help the affected societies to contextualise the War. Whether an adaption of Joseph Conrad’s “heart of darkness”, a story about the horrors of the colonial destruction of the Congo, where film maker Francis Ford Coppola relays the madness of the war. Such a depiction a far cry from John Wayne’s war time propaganda piece urging the good fight message in ‘the Green Berets’, the best Western in a jungle. To ‘First Blood’, ‘Deer Hunter’, ‘Uncommon Valor’, ‘Hamburger Hill’, ‘Platoon’, ‘Bat 21’ and ‘We Were Soldiers’ where the film was about the suffering of those who served. The war and the human beings back in ‘Nam merely props to serve the characters and real life service men who had to suffer for the war. ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and perhaps ‘Casualties of War’ would in some way depict the victims of the war, yet it was still about those who went over there. Even if one could agree that the war was wrong and unjust the killers, those who loyally served their nation, did so within the contexts of war. Those that they killed, they did not matter. They were just gooks.

The powerful painting by Lee Teter called ‘Reflections’ conveys the loss and pain experienced by those who served over there. For the native born who lived over there the infamous photo capturing the moment of a crying group of children, burned by napalm and fleeing a flaming village is just one moment of many moments both seen and unseen but all experienced by those living within the horrible reality of the war. It is a difference in perspective and while every horrible moment in war is as unique as those experiencing it, as far as national out looks the Vietnam war has a duality that many modern Americans often fail to appreciate. The contexts are drastically different and yet the suffering is everlasting.

Lee Teter, ‘Reflections’ 1988. The American perspective of ‘Nam.
Lee Teter, ‘Reflections’ 1988. The American perspective of ‘Nam.

It is a complicated world and war like politics seek to simplify the complex. Fast forward into the post 2001 World and in some ways, like it was when the United States and its allies sought to defeat communism and before that the Nazi’s and the Japanese Empire, it is now about reducing millions of human beings into a singular crude depiction. And whether intentionally or indirectly should innocent human beings be killed, it is inside of a context that accepts their deaths as being necessary. The new war is not just against ‘terror’ but extremist Islam.

Decades from now with retrospection much of these present policies and war will seem futile and wasteful, just as the 2003 invasion of Iraq is now readily being admitted as being a mistake. The millions of deaths and those harmed are still looked down upon with little regard. Just as is the case with the victims of the Vietnam war. It is not about them and their deformed babies, the legacy of chemicals and land mines. It is about the heroes that went there and did not come home. The heroes that fought there and did come home. Those are the killers and killed that should matter or so it seems. And so shall it be with the other wars. Just as we had to invade Iraq in 2003, we now also have to fight ISIS-ISIL-Daesh, Assad, Iran, Russia?

The war on terror has brought with it a whole new spectrum of hypocritical mayhem, none of which was ever known. Just adjusted accordingly to the post-Cold War world. While fear and xenophobia often drive the desires to murder, it is with the moral supremacy of culture and romantic narrative that brings with it a righteousness in doing so. Official military language evolves and adapts to the times to ensure that the enemy and their kin are dehumanised, given robotic names or designated impersonal classifications to protect the killers sense of self. Most of all it is to simplify the job of killing. It is with perplexing continuity that the killers often relegate entire regions into being lesser others. The perspective of cultural supremacy allows one to only see the virtues of one’s own national nature and the inferiority of those others. Injuns, Niggers, Negroes, Aboriginals, Natives, San people of the Cape, Kanakas, Chicano, Gooks, Dinks, Huns, Boche, Nips, Dinks, Chinks, Zipper Heads, Hajji and so on. They were and are now the enemy. All of them not merely the ‘fighting age males’, however young that happens to be, as determined by the killers.

The nature of war fighting is complicated and the killer’s reasons often reflect that. Some are true believers, others may be professionals with no morality while among their uniformed ranks lurk the lustful murderers who have found themselves the place and time to thrive. Some may suffer PTSD during and once it is over, to be drugged up and become dependent on therapy. The moral guilt eventually getting to them, especially once the war is lost or bogs into a senseless stalemate of bloody attrition. It is then that culture and society will often ignore them and push them aside dismissively. While those who support them will only see the depressed and stressed killers as being the victims, the dead and maimed far away are still just another prop to national policy. Others however will not suffer with their many comrades in arms instead they will simply regret that the war ended.

Movies, books, computer games and fictions based upon ‘real events’ are made to celebrate the calamity in all of its glorified sensationalism. The familiar uniforms are worn by the loved celebrities, the occupying military are injected far abroad fighting a difficult war against an unthankful people. The hero soldiers are misunderstood and those around them are often depicted as lacking any humanity and what little they do display is often of the worst kind. The jungles of Vietnam, beaches of Normandy, lush fields of Gettysburg, the sun scorched plains of Isandlwana, the oceans of sand surrounding Fort Zinderneuf soon become the mountains of Afghanistan or sandy streets of Fallujah. The viewing public already know the narrative before the experts explain it to them, they have watched it on film and television, played it on console or PC and know it from Grandpa’s glorious days. The familiar killers do so in the abstract name of splendid notions, their enemies are atrocious and alien like. Yet it is the heroes who are the aliens to the lands. It is our heroes who also commit atrocities.

It is nearly always ‘us’ over there. Heroic last stands, valiant defences, remote out posts, despair, desolate terrain, remoteness and an endless army of villainous enemies. Whether it is Battle of Camerone, Custer at the Little Big Horn, Rorkes Drift, Dien Bien Phu or Khe Sahn it is always the civilised Westerner over there. The romantic illusions of a handful of transplanted soldiers fighting back scores more of the savage attackers with heroism and vigilance. Great battles for the ages where it is fought between the combatants. More often however the truth is that the battles are inside concentrations of civilians. Victims caught between all sides who kill them with little compassion or concern when it suits them and exploit their corpses whenever they are murdered by the enemy side.

Beau Geste, 1939 movie poster of the popular book and frequently adapted film of the heroic last stand.
Beau Geste, 1939 movie poster of the popular book and frequently adapted film of the heroic last stand.

It is not just that many simply romance history or even that they are unaware of it. Many do not appreciate the weight of history. Its consequences, the blow back, unintended and intended miseries and the perpetual rhyme of violence that it often tends to retell. This ignorance married to a belief of context allows so many the ability to not merely murder but to do so with absolute immunity. To kill in the name of us all, for the apparent righteousness of human civility. This is the terrible context that separates the maniacal serial killer or the bug-eyed spree shooter from those who are paid professionals who represent an ideal, a societal belief, a nation. The outcome may be exactly the same but the perception is always different. Murder in this case is romantically beautiful. It is honourable and glorious.

So, as the blood drips from the axe blade of the murderer behind him flap flags and chant the songs of nations. The act of insane terror no longer one of brutal murder. Remove the axe and the dull mundane clothes of civility, replace it with the livery of brass, gaudy trimming of fatigues and the tones of military uniformity. Replace the dripping axe with an assault rifle, flame thrower, flight stick or hand grenade. Leave the bodies, let the blood run and listen to the whimpering cries of the dying. The sorrow of the surviving familiars. This is the true orchestra of war. On plays Bob Dylan’s ‘with God on our side’, let the pages of history turn and death of innocents continue. You love their misery so much, their tragedy with such passion. If you have no trouble in seeing the context of murder, if you believe that your side can kill innocent human beings so long as they validate it with some context, then so be it. The context is only found within your own mind. It is not murder, not even killing, for you it is simply war. But for them it is horrible.

Kym Robinson, March 2016

Published inAll Articles and EssaysWar, History and Foreign Policy

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